What A Beebot Wants... Designing games starting from children's own ideas.

Our Year 2s are amazing people! Anthropomorphism, is not only a WOW word, but has become one the key motivating factors in the way these yongsters have engaged their imaginations in working with their BeeBot Friends.

I wanted the children to think about ways in which we could introduce their new found friends and how they work to other children in school. I opened the session with what we had already learned about BeeBots, we now knew they loved to dance, but what else did Beebots like to do?

Using a Smart Notebook, in which we have been cummulatively documenting our work and ideas, not just as lesson activities and group games, but through photos and children's comments, we began a discussion and brainstorm of what BeeBots might like to do in their spare time. Using images of the children at work, and a few that came from Anthony Evan's Blog, we explored the idea of BeeBot Pastimes. Perhaps they might like to party, collect pollen, get dressed to go out, taste different foods, sleep in their beds go to school or visit friends are just a few of the suggestions that the children made. We extended this discussion to think about how the bots might go about doing these things. How would they get to their party? Where would they go to taste or eat their food? Where would they find their pollen? How would they get to school, and what might they pass on the way? What things would they have to do before they left their house for school?

Using some of these ideas as a stimulus, I suggested that all of their ideas seemed to involve collecting things, and perhaps what BeeBots might like most of all was to go on treasure hunts. From here I introduced the next challenge task, to design a game to play with younger students in the school using the BeeBots. I showed them a map I had made, where we could use BeeBot Procedures to visit fairytale characters, and asked for suggestions about how we might play the game. What would happen if we replaced the Characters with things we do when we get ready for school in the morning. Interestingly this game suggests ideas very like a task I have just done with year 6 children when working on flow charts. The children began to suggest ideas about how the Bot could travel around the grid or map, finding and putting on or collecting his clothes in the correct order. In essence, this game would involve the students in concretely inputting procedures, to carry out a real life process, what older children were currently doing more abstractly in Flowol.

The remainder of the session was spent making their game boards. Inputting single step procedures and making BeeBot footprints by drawing around their "friends" where they stopped. These "footprints, " will act next week as the grid, which they will decorate to form the context for their game and next time they will also make moveable cards which can be placed about the mat to design and redisign routes for the BeeBots to follow. I am very excited about this, as not only has the activity stimulated the children, with the motivation of sharing these with others, but has also highlighted some of the possibilities for using BeeBots with colleagues. There are a wide variety of commercially available BeeBot mats, but somehow the idea of children playing and sharing games that they themselves have made adds that extra dimension. I can't wait to see where their imagination takes them, and how they develop their ideas to realisable game designs to use with their friends. This task is evolving a purpose all of it's own which from which I am beginning to see a deeper understanding of input and output evolve than would have been possible through the use of commercial mats alone.


Podium and SmartBoard Recorder

Have spent the afternoon playing with some of the kit I got hold of at BETT, seemed somehow more fun than the planning scrutiny, I was intending to engage in. Unfortunately I still have this to do before I can watch the tele, so this entry will be brief.

Having played with my beta copy of Podium, I am now really excited by it, and fully intend to buy a copy or two on release. I am also going to trial it this week with some students, to see how they get on, but am not anticipating any real problems. It is really good fun, and even if at the moment I can't upload the casts they make, I can certainly export them in MP3 format to be listened to from the network.

What was also fun this afternoon however was, building on a demo I saw earlier in the school year, adding commentaries to Smart Recorder files. While I had my microphone plugged in I had a go, at carrying out a demo on making a hide and reveal file. I didn't realise how tricky it was to do this sychronously, particularly as my laptop is getting a bit old, but the outcome was quite effective, and something with a bit of practice I am sure I will be able to use in developing a resource bank to support colleagues, in the making of whiteboard resources.


Flowol First Experiences

In an earlier posting I discussed how our year 6 students are using the Flowol control environment this term. We have spent the last few weeks building towards this by looking at and making flow diagrams to break familiar actions (procedures) down into smaller processes, to practice writing procedures in the format used to input to the software, before engaging with the real thing. We used Softease Studio to do this. The Object based Desk Top Publishing application within this suite, provides a diverse clipart gallery, which includes all the symbols necesary to create flow charts. Using this package we sketched out simple procedures for such things as watering the plants in the garden, getting ready for school, and crossing the road, establishing ideas about how these actions need to be carried out in particular orders if they are to be successful in meeting their purpose, and how potentially dangerous or even embarrasing it could be, if we did some things before others.

Today we used Flowol for the first time. As an environment for control, flowol does not rely on a visible scripting language to bring about changes in outputs, but uses a flow diagram structure to input commands. For those of us who do not have, control boxes, the software also comes with tools called "mimics," on screen models which can be controlled from within the software. Today we began our quest by designing a procedure to control the lights at a model zebra crossing. The session began with a Smart Notebook, and a video I had made of a Zebra Crossing at work. Having watched the video we discussed what we had seen happening. The lights were flashing but what did flashing mean? What was changing? What needed to happen inside the yellow ball in order for a "flash" to happen as an output? Initially the students found it very difficult to articulate, and identify what was happening or needed to make the flash. We spent quite some time discussing this, drawing on their experiences in science, and helping them to make links with what we could see happening, and enabling them to understand that this flash was actually brought about by the turning on and then off a light bulb.

With this established, we moved to our notebook, in order to sequence the procedure, we might need to make the bulb flash. Start-> turn bulb on -> turn bulb off -> stop. With a little further discussion, and working through the procedure the students began to realise that this wouldn't actually achieve the repeated flash we needed, and that the bulb would go on once and off once before stopping. We needed to introduce a loop, into the procedure if the light was to go on and off repeatedly. I was then able to introduce the idea that their was a space in between each on and off, or in the terms used by our software environment a delay.

I introduced the now fairly familiar format for inputting procedures to the Flowol environment and how it worked, and the students were encouraged to use the two initial steps I had modelled, and the procedure we had written together in our smartbook to work in pairs to develop their own procedures to make the light flash. As the session proceeded and more and more children were successful in getting the model to work, we introduced editing procedures to change variables, eg could we write a procedure which kept the light on for longer than it was off? How quickly could they make the bulbs flash and so on. This in turn lead to reminders that their were smaller numbers than 1, and how could we record these, fraction inputs needed to be recorded in decimal notation. I was planning to write about this later, as working with this software is very new to me, but on visiting, our learning community tool I noticed that one of my students, had invited me to come and visit his Flowol Page. He had spent much of this evening, searching the web to find an image similar to the mimic we had been working on today, and using a graphics package he had inserted this, into a prepared flow chart, and saved it to upload to his think space. The image at the top of this article is his own work, in follow up to today's activity. If this is the response from today, can't wait until next week, when we will be using the same environment to sequence the light controls for a set of traffic lights. Watch this space.


BeeBot Boogie Two

Since my last BeeBot posting our year two students have really got to grips with what these fun loving minbeasts can do. We developed our free play sessions, to begin thinking about units of measure. We had prepared ladybird shaped "dance mats" for each group to use, and began exploring what a BeeBot unit of measure might mean. We began by making predictions about, and then testing how many steps it would take for the bots to move across the mats we had made, at different points. At first the children guessed, but as the sessions moved on they began to refine these, until what they estimated was more realistic. We extended the activity further to invite predictions about where on the mat the BeeBot would stop, after certain inputs were entered, and finally we watched our video from last time, before engaging the students with their ultimate challenge. They must create a dance routine for their BeeBot, it must stay within the area of the mat. It was not allowed to touch the floor. Drawing on last weeks video, and the predictions we had made, the children soon realised that in order for this to happen, forward and backward inputs could not be greater than three, but "fancy" moves could be included in their routines, by adding on the spot turns, or using the pause button.

During the last two sessions we have also required the children to record their activity, and to note the inputs neccesary for their BeeBoot programs. With support the children have begun to plan their routines by breaking the actions down into steps, using the BeeBot to support this, clearing memory between each input, and recording the steps made. On completion of their boogie "routines," the children tested these, on the mat, in order to check that their boogie met the criteria we had shared for the challenge.

This week I brought along a collection of tunes created in Garageband on a Mac. These had been developed by students in year 3, during their control unit on playing with sounds, there were also one or two I had made myself while learning how to use the software. As Year 2 finalised and refined their routines, their groups were asked to choose the track they would like their Bot to Boogie to. To round off this section of activities, we came together, and shared our BeeBot Boogies, with our chosen backing track played behind it. Our LSA filmed the boogies, and today, I have compiled them with the children's chosen backing tracks. They are amazing in that they reflect the progress the children have made in such a short period of time, firstly in their problem solving, but also in their understanding of how we need to break down sequences of instructions into small steps, when planning, in order that what happens is what we expected. There were a few slip ups, but it is interesting how the students responded. Comments like "it didn't do that on our table," lead to discussions about whether or not the Bot had begun its boogie in the correct place on the mat. Even when errors were made the majority of bot bodies stayed within the confines of the mat area, which is also evidence of how the students engaged with the activity, and how their knowledge and understanding of control and measure have progressed in this context over the last couple of weeks. Videos of these latest offerings are available in the year 2 community pages of our school website. Hopefully you might enjoy them as much as we did creating them.

Countown Conundrum

This weekend I was sent on a quest, to find that timer thing from the Countdown TV series, for an event we are holding in a couple of weeks time. As always, you rarely find exactly what you are looking for on the web. It took a while but I found a real gem in the end.

CSF Software products, run by Chris Farmer, a Mathematics teacher, has created a Countdown Numbers Game generator, a standalone program, which runs in full screen mode, for use with IWBs. You can go through the "I'll have one from the top, 2 from the bottom and 3 from the middle" routine if you like, before setting the tool to generate the target number, which sets the timer in motion, with background music from the show that makes for that touch of realism. The number range to be used and time scale for activities, can be changed by the user, though the music will only kick in for the last 30 seconds. This however could act as a reminder of task deadlines, and support pace within the session.
You will need to play with this tool before using it with your students, and change the number ranges used to match the needs of the class. The outcomes generated by the students, will no doubt provide fantastic and relevant contexts for mathematical discussion, which I feel is one of the keys to successful Interactive whiteboard use in any lesson. I think the ideal way to organise use of this resource initially with a whole class, might be through "pair and share." Using small dry wipe whiteboards I would encourage students to work together, to solve the problems, before bringing them back together as a class to share solutions, and maybe include an intermediate task, where students take turns within the pair to work on problems, and then check the accuracy of each other's workings before sharing. As in the TV quiz, I would look for the nearest solution to the target number, and not necesarily focus on reaching it exactly, though this would provide opportunities to differentiate the task and extend the more able students. Alternatively use of individual whiteboards, would engage all children in the activity during Oral Mental Sessions.
Use with a laptop in small groups situations, could be a fun way to provide context for formative assessment, and open a window into how students engage with calculation and the strategies they use. Within my classroom I have been concerned that numeracy hours should enable students to develop and extend their understanding of mathematical language through thinking together, inorder to develop shared understanding of terms in context, this tool as a frame for this has enormous potential.
Also on Chris's site are other tools, such as the "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" game which I am flagging here as a reminder to pop back and have a look at later. I mention it here though as it reminded me of a strategy I regularly use with my students when they get stuck. Using the IWB children are sometimes so keen and excited to have a go, they either forget or have not thought through their response to a task. Rather than send the children back to their place and ask another child to do the task, which could deflate their enthusiasm, I often ask the child if they would like to "phone a friend" to come and help. This way the child who has come to engage with the board, still carries out the task, but with the support of someone they feel can help them, and both can have their engagement with the task celebrated.


Visiting BETT, Software to die for and a geography lesson to boot.

Saturday last I spent at Olympia. I would have liked to have had more time obviously, but as a practicing teacher this rarely seems to be available. Instead a 6.30 start found myself and Tiz the ted, spending quality time together over coffee and a bacon sarnie at Temple Meads, and planning our day with the biggest and the best in the world of Educational ICT.

After photographs over breakfast, on the train, and in a variety of other poses and opportunities with British Giants like Isambard Kingdom Brunel and that marmalade loving bear, at Paddington, teddy clearly became concerned by the sheer volume of people and asked to be tucked away in my back pack. With Tiz safe and secure, I felt able to mingle and browse the items I had planned to see to my hearts content.

Visiting BETT with no pre planning, I have discovered to my peril, is counter productive. There is literally too much to see, and this visit I was intent on returning home with both my arms the same length. I was particularly interested in two software environments, but also demos from one Software house in particular. Anything else was a bonus, and as is usual on days out such as this I still managed to come back with a host of free goodies, keyrings, biros and mousemats by the score. However I am proud to say that this time I was able to say no, and only return with order forms and publicity materials that were the focus of my visit.

The highlights of my day were visits to the Softease stand and a live demo of their soon to be released podium software package, watching a several demos on 2 simple's stand, and seeing some of the new material developed for the IWB by Mark Cogan's Interactive resources.

Podium was of particular interest as I have given considerable thought to some of the ways podcasting or even just audio recording, using digital means, might be developed to support teaching and learning within my school. I had a flight of fancy in the Autumn Term, after visiting, when I considered the idea of encouraging year six children to record bedtime stories for sharing from our school website, with younger students. I wondered if digital publication in this way, might help them to develop a sense of audience, help them to think more about the purpose of expression and intonation during oral presentation. In thinking about how writing is for reading, and a recorded form of speech, it interests me how some of our children still seem to have the impression, that reading as something they do to or for their teacher. How do we encourage a love of reading if it is solely seen as work, and something we have to do. This was one of the things that really excited me about Podium, as despite its obvious power as an audio recording, presentation and publication tool, it seems at first glance very easy to use and accessible.

We are in the process of developing a new library in school, and I am working with my school technician to create a smaller networked space for use with focus and target groups. Podium does not only enable web based publication, but also publishing to a local network. One thought that crossed my mind was the possibility of creating a small talking books library, focussing on the ideas presented above, to encourage older children to record for younger children, the text from their favourite picture books. These could be played back through classroom PCs, or perhaps through MP3 players with speakers attached in book corners. They might also form a useful resource for a small group activity during a literacy hour. I am sure seeing the enjoyment others got from their reading aloud could be a real motivator, and combined with the ability to find the story that matches the talking text, would facilitate the younger students ability to access and make links between the words on the page and those spoken by a reading buddy or familiar older face. As a school we are also working to increase community involvement within the school, it would be intersting to involve community members in reading stories for inclusion in the school library, and using this technology as a resource to increase their understanding and knowledge of the technological world.

The obvious Radio Teyfant has struck a chord too, as we are part of a BSF project where our school is to be rebuilt within a larger campus structure. Documenting this process with the children we feel is key to establishing ownership and the future sense of community we hope this structure will provide. We have considered blogging, and timelapse video as two ways of documenting this process, but are now also thinking of including a weekly podcast about what is happening. A multimodal online newsletter. We are lucky in that we can see the changes from our classroom windows, but one of the schools to join us on site, is currently quite a distance away, and we want them to feel central to the project too. Before looking at Podium this seemed like a task too far, but I am beginning to see possibilities for using the tool to support this project, and further explore the potentiality of this new medium.

2 Simple provided another stopping off point and after a number of demos, the package I wandered away with for trial was 2 email. As I said in an earlier post, about control, I would like to see ICT based activity included in the role play areas of our younger children. I pondered on the making of baggage labels and tickets in the travel agents, but seeing 2 email fired another imaginative moment about how we might use this software tool with younger children. In the real world e mail is becoming a central part of communications, but it is not easy to simulate without giving some degree of internet access. 2 email it seems does just this, installed on a local pc it allows children to log on and go through the process of writing, sending, and replying to email in a simulated environment, where the files they send never leave the computer, classroom or school, but which can be picked up and replied to by other users within the class, and returned to their pc based inbox. I could see all sorts of possibilities for this within the Key Stage One classroom, as part of the office, or home developed for role play, with an adult taking the role in the hotseat, responding to topic or thematically based questions, perhaps simulating the role of Tiz the travelling bear during topic work, writing to the children in response to their assumed location. Perhaps giving clues for use with a preestablished and labelled map of the world. "I have just had my photograph taken with a very famous bear, he shared a marmalade sandwich and a cup of cocoa with me, before waving off my train from the station, a place that shares his name. I am in the capital city of England. Can you find me on your map? " Perhaps they could ask Katie Morag about her Island, the weather and the things she likes to do. Using the internet to look up weather conditions on the Island, we could send these back for the children to log on a weather chart comparing weather conditions in the Hebrides with those around school today.

Anyway, keeping my imagination in check for a moment, I also did lots more on my visit, but to be honest Tiz is getting a bit restless, and wants me to write about how we followed up her day out in school with the students. On our journey, as I said earlier we took some photos of Tiz. In school I copied these to the network, and our Key Stage One staff spent some time sharing these with the students as a slide show through Windows Photo Viewer. The students enjoyed talking about where she had been, what she had done and the statues in the photographs. Later in the week I used PowerPoint to create a travel log, inserting the photographs we had taken and sequencing the day to tell the story from Tiz's point of view. On our school website, we have a micro site space called Tiz's Travels, where we will be uploading and sharing her journeys with the wider community, but drawing on an idea presented in Anthony Evans Blog about Geotagging, I was inspired to include my first geotagged map in this space too along with the travel journal to show this particular day out in its Geographical context. Logging into quickmaps I used the zoom and search tools to help tag and label the main landmarks on this journey first, then zoomed out until I had the map view I wanted to display in the site. Pressing save and display code, the site generated for me the html I needed to include in my web page in order to access the map I had created. In combination with the travel journal, this tool I feel now broadens the context for discussion and sharing of the day out. We can locate the Journal in space, see roughly how far apart the locations are, zoom into the places where the photographs were taken, and see where the places are in relation to each other. If Geography is about understanding our place in space, then these tools together are very powerful tools in enabling this understanding to be developed. I have uploaded these resources to our Tiz's Travels microsite, but here is a direct link to the page in question, let me know what you think. Well back to the everyday, a haircut, shopping, and maybe with the supermarket's permission a few pictures for my new control and monitoring resource kit.


BeeBot Boogaloo

On Friday morning I was priviledged to work with our year 2 students. They are usually very excited by all things involving ICT, but even more so than usual today, as they met our beebots for the first time, and were completely drawn in to the context we had created for their use.

I was inspired by an idea presented in Anthony Evan's Blog, about the illegal capture, and sale of BeeBots from the wild. I used the idea as a starting point to, present these programmable toys as imaginary living things. Things to be cared for and looked after. Caring for resources and tools is one of my pet gripes, so introducing these new resources, and how we care for them, preserve their battery life, etc was a key element of the activities and routines I introduced to the students in this first session. The BeeBots loaned themselves beautifully to this. They were introduced in whispers in their carry cases as shy creatures, who were asleep at the moment. While they were asleep they were gently handled, as we talked about how we get them to do things. In a low voice I began explaining how we used the control panel to input instructions for forward and backward movement, how they were able to turn, and how we get the bots to go. The Bots were turned gently over, to show how we woke them up, and how we sent them back to sleep when we had finished our activities, by flicking the on off switch. The first part of the session focussed on the children playing freely with the bots, exploring what they could do and how they could make this happen. As you might imagine the first big problem was, having not modelled how to clear the bots memory, the instructions each group put in resulted in a growing number of actions by the bot each time the go button was pressed.

The children were brought back together and the idea of remembering, and memory was introduced. By pressing the clear memory button, we could get the bot to forget other actions and start again. The idea of the carry case, as a bed for the bots to sleep in between tasks as well as at the end of the session; the idea of clearing their memories, as a way of getting the Bots to forget what they had been doing in between activities, appealed very much to these young learners. The idea of puttng the bot to sleep, before putting them in their bed also contributed to the success of organising these sessions, with the children putting the bot to sleep before returning to the carpet space.

One of the problems within the activity was the excitement generated. This wasn't really a problem, it just required some management input to enable all children to have a turn. I rediscovered from lost memories today, that when we are 6 and excited, taking turns is not high on our priority list. So thinking quickly the children were encouraged to invent a "beebot boogy." I introduced the idea that what beebots like to do most in the world is dance, and that we could teach them how to do this, by inputting their "moves," for them. Each group were given a small white board and dry wipe pens, and encouraged to take turns to record a step in the "move." Every child could have 3 moves each. When they came to program the moves, the child who had written it, must be allowed to input it, it was only fair. Finally all moves had to be in before the bot could go. They had a really good time doing this, and the recordings or jottings they had made were photocopied later, as evidence for display too.

At the end of the session the children were allowed to keep their bots awake as we came back together to share our beebot boogies. I always carry with me either a DV camera or Digital Camera, and today I videoed the boogies. At home later I edited the clips together and added a sound track. The Beebot Boogies video for one of the year 2 classes can be found on our school website. Hope you enjoy the show.


Control and Monitoring: Do I need to expand my view point on what this means in my school?

Thinking out Loud:

The control and monitoring strand of the ICT national curriculum has been idendified nationally as an area requiring development. I recently spent a day working alongside colleagues from my LA discussing and reviewing how we might address this concern where we work. At school, as I am sure is happening in many others, we are in the process of reorganising and replanning our curriculum provision, and part of my role this year is to focus on how ICT can support this, exploring how the available software and hardware environments we have can enhance or support the process, and forward planning for future needs.

My primary concern is that control particularly, is frequently taught as a stand alone area within the ICT curriculum, and I am increasingly convinced that the basis for many of our problems, is that as concepts, control and monitoring are considered to be outside of the daily experiences of many of us, or at least our interpretted potentials within the documentation we draw on to develop our wider curricular. They require us to use tools and environments which are not common place in our daily lives, or neccesarily intuitive to use. So relevance becomes an issue. LOGO for example as a control environment, seems to be an alien landscape and is an immediate turn off to many colleagues, though I have to admit, geek that I am, I still find LOGO to be a potentially exciting tool to use, and am frequently surprised by the power that this scripting language affords other more committed users. Engagement with the web, and in particular some of the Interactive teaching programs, and dynamic page content has given me a new handle on why such packages are important to use with students. "Flash" content such as Interactive Teaching Programs for example would be just interesting pictures, animations or visual models if they didn't involve some sort of scripting, with additional commands and instructions behind the interface, to enable us as users to engage with the presentation, or to change representations, reset and input new starting points. I have been known in the past, when I have come across an interesting web site design to wander off track, and to view the page as source briefly while working with the class, leading to questions like why did you do that? Or what is that we are looking at? It doesn't need a long winded explanation, merely something like, "well these are the instructions our browser uses to change this (the code) into that (the web page). "What we see is this glossy wow bit, when we down load the page with the pictures, buttons and animations, but the person who built the page probably spent some or all of their time working with the code or script we can see here as well." What we and the children often don't see when we engage with the web, is the person behind the technology, and I think it is important for the students to know that this content didn't magically appear, it was created by someone or a team of someones, somewhere else in response to the percieved needs of another someone, or team of someones. The fact that we can see it now is often a by product of this series of actions. At its most basic LOGO as an example programming environment affords a scripting tool which enables students to input commands and observe and evaluate the results of their actions as displayed on screen, for us as teachers it provides a starting point and context to scaffold and begin to support and explore one aspect of control in the wider world, and to begin making links between the work students do and the wider applications of programming and ICT generally in the real world.

Control and monitoring technologies today are widespread and very much a part of our daily lives. I asked my mum once as a youngster why we didn't have a remote for our telly, when my mates did. Her reply, why do we need one I've got you, go on it's time for us to watch a question of sport... I now use similar responses by the way, when asked why I don't have a dishwasher.... But these tools, which we use without thinking all rely on the basic concepts of control, input and output. Input from the remote brings about a range of outputs, they turn up the volume, change channel or set up the video before we disappear out to the pub. Magically and hypothetically of course, when we return home Match of the Day, Lost or Big Brother are there waiting for us. The Kebab, which has gone cold on the walk or bus journey home, gets stuffed in the microwave for 2 minutes while we walk away and get the TV ready and then on the ping, we remove our hot mass... Technologies constantly move on, and sky+ boxes now record tv to hard drives, allow us to rewind programmes in real time, enable us to watch the footie from a range of different angles and so on. Outside we may drive or catch the bus from home to school, stopping at zebra crossings and traffic lights, perhaps swinging by the supermarket where doors open automatically, metal gates swing in response to our passing, purchases are scanned and our spend calculated. We whip out our cards, punch in our pins and suddenly our wallets are lighter not just virtually I hasten to add. Most of our shopping trip has probably been recorded on video, and in the case of my local Supermarket, everything I have purchased has been logged, along with previous trips against my loyalty card, so that in a couple of weeks, money off vouchers relevant to my percieved lifestyle will fall on my door mat, whether I want them or not. At school my swipe card, supports a decision about whether or not I can enter the site, and after registration the contents of my register are inputted to the office system to record those present or absent, and calculate dinner monies. We cannot escape control and monitoring devices, they are a part of ours and the students everyday lives, what seems to have happened however is that we are so familiar with them, they have become mundain and lost in the world of the everyday. To create relevance to our curriculum and the learner, perhaps we need to draw these into focus, begin to look beyond the technology and make them transparent through our approach to classroom teaching and learning. A model of control in action is not that far away from many of my colleagues in the classroom today, its most prominant recent incarnation being the Interactive Whiteboard. Perhaps as starting points for control and monitoring units of work we should begin closer to home and draw on the everyday, develop ICT trails in school or "field trips," to explore where and how ICTs are used in the world around us, and identify and explore concrete examples of these. We could photograph, or video them, to facilitate a more evaluative approach to why they are used. What value do they add and what would happen if we didn't use them? We might also examine and explore what was used before these technologies? As learners it is easy to accept that technologies as they exist have always been here somewhere and somehow, or for us to label all ICTs as being computer driven, but our history is littered with tools that have enabled us to communicate, store and share information, with each other. These range from pictographs to formalised written alphabets, running messengers to ocean steamers to satelites, and the penny post to email and bulletin boards. This was my reasoning behind displaying an ICT timeline in our online classroom including hieroglyphs, the first formal writing systems, stage coaches, the first computer games, a history of the PC which included the typewriter, printing press and so on. When next we meet as a staff perhaps we should play with and discuss these images, to help humanise and personalise ICT development. Perhaps we could begin to consider questions such as what ICTs were available to the Romans, Ancient Egyptians and Greeks? What might have lead to the boom of ICT development in the 20th and 21st century, and how has the emergence of the telegraph from the 19th century impacted on this process? Would exploring the cultural impact of ICTs through history, support our understanding of the role which they play today, and enhance the relevance of ICTs in the teaching and learning process?

Sad as it may seem one of my jobs this weekend has been to find a zebra crossing and a set of traffic lights to video for this purpose. Pink and cold I sat in a local shopping centre, and later on Temple Meads station to achieve this. I am however planning to use Flowol with our year 6 students this term, and want to make the context for their projects as real as possible. I feel I can best achieve this by situating them in concrete settings. By combining the video I have captured with maps and aerial photos from Google Earth I want to broaden the context, to help them understand, not only how input and output effect the systems and artefacts we will control, but how the sequences and structure of the outputs support the purpose of the artefacts and sytems (DT speak) in their real world settings. Using my video alongside class based monitoring tools, timers and the like, the students will be encouraged to time the delays between flashes, and log and sequence the changes in the traffic lights first hand and to use these within the Flowol environment to control the mimics, drawing on this particular location as a real life model. I want to encourage discussions about whether or why traffic flow in one direction requires longer sequences of green light show than another? Why they think traffic lights have been considered necesary in this location? What problems might be encountered without them? To consider local places where traffic lights might be beneficial? Why we might have traffic lights in some places and Pelican Crossings in others? What are the differences and similarities between pelican crossings and traffic lights? These types of questions are intended to support the children in the use of geographical questions which they will be developing in class. Human Geography of this type, which is in essence town and country planning, also has links to Design and Technology, discussing and identifying needs, evaluation and disassembly, and application with short focussed practical tasks. They will begin to address the need to critically engage with the technological world around them, and begin to question purpose and application.

I will also be using LOGO this term with year 4 students in a series of guided investigations exploring ideas around the properties of regular polygons. I have carried this out as a series of Numeracy hours in the past, ending with the painting and presentation of images created using MSW LOGO in Microsoft Paint, developing rotationally symmetrical designs, or mandalas as the projects outcome. These designs, raise a great deal of excitement. We will work together as a community to explore how we can use the LOGO environment to construct regular polygons, and over time develop a shared recipe or menu, reducing extended routines to introduce repeat commands and build routines which result in the production of these shapes by a single word input. These will be saved by the students for later work. My aim ultimately is to promote understanding of the term degree as a measurement of turn, and to introduce and develop as the unit builds a context for the use of language related to the description of regular 2d shapes. Final stages of the project rely on a growing knowledge that a full turn is equal to 360 degrees, and that one command within a LOGO routine or procedure controls the amout of turn the turtle will make, one the number of turns and the other the distance it will travel or one of the shapes we have developed. Working together to collect factors of 36o, as inputs to help create their rotational designs, provides context to discuss not only shapes, but also to introduce the mathematical term factors, and the effects of multiplying and dividing by 10. There is also the possibility to explore the inverses of multiplication facts, and how these effect the patterns they produce. eg repeat 10 [hexagon rt 36] will produce a different pattern to repeat 36 [hexagon rt 10] and so on. Collecting and making shared menus of options and factors, means that the focus shifts constantly between knowing and using, and enables the higher attainers to be extended mathematically, while engaging those who might struggle in the overall purpose of the unit, the visual exploration and investigation of effect. Having a menu of choices provides a scaffold for less able mathematicians to explore and resolve ICT based problems of turtle control, using community based mathematical knowledge to overcome the barriers they might otherwise have in engagagng in the tasks. The investigation has purpose for everyone in exploring visually, shape, pattern and design, and provides a context to discuss and observe turtle control in it's mathematical context.

In establishing a foundation for this work, our youngest students must also have opportunities to engage with the ideas surrounding input and output. Christmas has already provided a wealth of starting points for this. For example working with Year 2 students yesterday, a host of controllable toys were shared as presents during check in. One child had even brought a programmable toy tank to school for show and tell, another a remote control Dalek, while many others excitedly talked about their new Playstations, X boxes or Nintendos. I was suddenly struck by how easily a series of activities could have evolved, building on this excitement and relevant experience. On reflection, during the session children were using sequences of talk which could have been redirected to develop around control and its concepts. Opportunistically we had found ourselves talking about what these toys do and the different user inputs required to bring about varying outputs as actions. Pushing buttons or levers made the toy move in different directions, make sounds, or turned on and off the lights. The discussion compared or described gaming controllers and how some had wires, while some didn't. How the function of the controller on one game changed according to what was being played, and how a new type of controller for a Nintendo required its user to simulate particualr actions in order to work in the gaming environment. Using catologues, digital photographs we could extend this type of starting point to develop displays or sorting activities, focussing discussions on comparing toys, games or other familiar artefacts that are controllable, not controllable; electronic, not electronic, make sounds do not make sounds and so on.

This type of activity could also be extended or emerge by exploiting other contexts such as the role play area, where we might use the social context to focus structured play around objects from home that use monitoring and control, such as the video, the TV, the microwave, the vacuum cleaner and fridge, or maybe in the travel agency when we provide calculators and telephones, or include the computer as a tool for practicing writing our name to make tickets, or baggage labels.

Having gone full circle, I am beginning to convince myself that I do need to broaden my view of control and monitoring, and am beginning to see how a range of activities and computer based peripheral devices, previously not identified for purpose could be considered for inclusion within a working definition of control and monitoring and then written into schemes of work or plans within the wider curriculum context. The computer itself, uses a host of input devices to bring about a range of outputs. Starting with the mouse which enables us to navigate and use software. The keyboard to input text, scanners which capture and input images and software environments which enable us to change the outputs produced as a result. Combining the use of video to develop animated movies within the literacy hour, linked to other cross curricular themes, or even the making of a podcast, or documentary/newstory, relies heavily on the notion of input, and the influence of users to create output. Does the consideration of bias in news stories, potentially link to control and monitoring in its widest sense. Our wireless keyboards, voting systems and slates allow us to move around the classroom and involve ourselves and our students as a community in engagement with a dynamic and constantly changing set of resources. Digital projectors and interactive whiteboards alongside these resources allow us to share and control a tool we once staticaly used from remote locations. Control and monitoring is perhaps more relevant and indeed prevalent in the curriculum and classroom now than it has ever been. One of the considerations I think I have to face, is how I develop the area to make its importance across the curriculum more transparent, discrete and evident in the activities we engage in every day. However I need also to make sure that this currently wooly view of control becomes more firmed up so to speak, and that it does not get buried and lost, in asssumptions that control is caught not taught. The view must include a shared understanding between myself and colleagues, that if such activities are to be considered as control and monitoring, they must be planned into and the ICT concepts highlighted and transparent within the teaching and learning contexts designed for.

Having wittered to my hearts content. I would value greatly any comments or contributions readers may have about this article.


Reach For The Stars

Microsoft's PowerPoint is much more than a presentation tool. Though more familiar to many of us as a projected script, presenting key facts or shared texts in a slideshow format, the tool is also a powerful multimedia authoring tool. Working with year 5 students early in the term I set out to create simple web pages, but using PowerPoint as a platform what we eventually developed was something quite different.

In class the children were working on a topic about the Ancient Greeks. Their literacy dimension was an exploration of Myths and Legends. A natural cross curricular link from here was to their science unit on the earth in space, and to consider modern views of the solar system alongside how its workings were described by the Ancients in their stories. Drawing on their science unit we decided to focus on use of the internet as a secondary source of information, developing and building understanding of how the Internet Works, while also considering e-safety and reliability of information sources. Microsoft PowerPoint would be used as a tool to compile and present the information we had collected. The intended outcome of the unit had been to create a series of pages for the school website, but this was changed to making a navigable multimedia "book."

Searching the internet we uncovered a rich vein of "reliable" websites, and the children were reminded how to add pages to their favourites, how to copy and save text from web pages and how to download images to support their work. We also highlighted the importance of referencing image and text sources. It is all too easy to just copy information from the internet, or to print it out without considering what it actually means, thinking about the work others have put into creating the resource we are exploiting or applying it to the purpose of the activity. With this in mind we created a shared set of questions, we would like to research about each of the planets, and then used the sites we had collected to seek out the answers. The children also collected images of each of the nine planets and saved these to their personal folders for use in the multimedia texts they would eventually compile and create. To emphasise the importance of referencing I also added each of the sites we had used to our school website resource section and the year five community pages, inorder to acknowledge the original authors and the sources we had drawn on in our work. This as well as the bookmarks children had collected later also became a resource to draw on in the development of our texts.

To develop a starting point, frame skills teaching activities and enable differentiation, a template PowerPoint file was set up, and copied to each students folder. The file contained a page for each planet, plus an index page. This enabled comparisons between the way our multimedia book and a website works to be made as the project evolved. On each planet page we also included the set of questions we had developed around which the children would research. Templates such as these, can be considered to be limiting, if seen merely as digital worksheets to be completed by the students, however my experiences tell me that students will innovate on these resources, altering layout and design to suit their desired outcomes, as well as working as scaffolds, enabling play and facilitating opportunities to ask questions which move learning about the software environment on. Most of my own personal learning experience in using new software tools has come from exploring the wizards and templates developers provide, and building on this alongside previous experiences, to extend my practice and activity within the environment. Template files or wizards contribute to and, extend the available design resources children and users have to work with. I frequently use available or self designed templates and wizards as starting points, as they support pace in constructing final project outcomes, but also because they help me focus and orientate the learner on the acquisition of specific skills while working towards our intended outcomes within the chosen software environment.

Building the Book

Moving on then. The familiar method of using PowerPoint is in the creation of linear texts, inserting new slides which progressively act as a script to support oral presentation. By default PowerPoint slides move from one to the next on "mouseclick." Working with the template or wizard, the first stage of the project was to prevent this from happening, as we wanted to move from page to page using hyperlinks, like we would with a web page or CD Rom. This was achieved by changing the slide show set up. Clicking on slideshow and then slide transitions we removed the tick from the advance on mouse click box, enabling this on the current slide, and then clicking the "apply to all" slides button, applying the effect to the whole show.

The slide show was now stationary, and our next step was to add hyperlinks from the index to each individual slide, and then back links from each slide to the index, to enable navigation and movement within our "book". This was achieved by highlighting the text to be linked and then clicking the insert hyperlink button. Selecting the "link to place in document" button reveals a list of slides in the file. Selecting the slide to link to from this list, and then pressing OK inserts a hyperlink to that slide. Repeating the process the students were able to link each slide to the index page, and then to progress to insert back links from each slide to the index.

Point To Note: Some concerns were raised by students in the early stages of the project, about why the hyperlinks didn't work, in the design or slide view. In order for the hyperlinks to work, the presentation must be viewed as a slideshow. As students became familiar with the need to change view in order to test their show, these concerns subsided, and were replaced with a wow about what they had achieved.

With the hyperlinks in place, and the show set up, the children were encouraged to use the skills they had developed in the earlier section of the unit to find, select, copy and paste relevant information from the webpages they had collected to answer the questions we had created. Once pasted into the powerpoint slides, the children revised these to create sentence answers. This in itself was a useful exercise, as many found difficulty initially in converting the questions they had into answers. Working together in pairs, taking turns to act as voice they were able to discuss whether the sentences and text they developed made sense and whether they answered the initial question, extending the task to draw on comprehension activities developed during literacy activities in class.

The beauty and power of a network and the single class log in system we use is that all the files developed by the students are available as ongoing designs for review during sessions, and as intros or focus points for plenaries. During all stages of the project, but during the text development stages particularly, we were able to come together regularly as a class to discuss what was being produced, and to share ideas or problems we encountered in the development of our texts, and to make or share suggestions about how slides and shows might be improved. Using PowerPoint in this way, enabled the students to make a start in understanding how web sites and other non linear texts are constructed and work. Some of the texts produced by students as outcomes of this unit can be found on our school website in the Year 5 Community pages, while a Smartbook which developed in support of the work and the PowerPoint templates used can be found in the ICT resource bank also on our website.